Every year, multiple companies go to market with seasonal influenza vaccines. But do you have any idea whether Novartis, GSK, Mylan, or CSL made the solution that was injected into your arm? Did you read the sheet the nurse gave you? Was there even a sheet or a conversation? Maybe, but probably not.
Next year, however, you might.
One of the many unprecedented developments of the coronavirus pandemic is that people are hyper-aware of vaccines, the pharmaceutical companies producing them, and their efficacy rates, as each day brings updates of how trials are progressing, who has authorized use, and how many shots you have to get for it to work.
That means Americans are going to shop for vaccines like they would for a new car as doses become available next year.
According to a Yahoo Finance-Harris Poll survey in October, 77% of respondents said they would do research about which vaccine to take. This was before recent positive news from Pfizer (PFE), Moderna (MRNA), and AstraZeneca (AZNCF) that saw efficacy rates far above the minimum thresholds put forth by the government. There are 57 vaccines currently in development, according to the New York Times’ tracker.
As Wired noted in an article this week, more than one vaccine is required to beat the pandemic, and each vaccine may have its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Some will come in the initial phase. Some will be easier to get. Some vaccines will be cheaper. Some will require more refrigeration. Some will require multiple doses. Some will have more side-effects. Some vaccines may cause allergic reactions, just like egg-based flu vaccines.
Dr. Sheila Doron, an epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, told Yahoo Finance there actually is some precedent for this type of consumer behavior with the flu vaccine.
“People can choose the high-dose flu vaccine or the nasal flu vaccine, for example. So there is a precedent,” she said.
For the flu, people who don’t like needles can get the nasal vaccine, and those who are allergic can find a non-egg-based version (around 19% of the vaccine supply is non-egg-based, according to the CDC).
Given that the coronavirus is newer and deadlier than the flu, vaccines have garnered far more attention, likely amplifying what Doron has seen. (The classic line about the coronavirus is that it’s “no flu” for people who warn against it, or it’s “just like the flu” for those who minimize it.)
All of this injects uncertainty into the coronavirus logistical response as vaccines go to market. So far, Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca have set the bar for efficacy, and if the bar remains near-perfect across the board, Americans may stop feeling the need to research and compare.
And if they still do, it’s very unclear how comparison shopping will play out in a vaccine response on a national and global scale. But this is something governments, companies, economists, and investors are going to have to account for and potentially deal with.